72% of people who signed up for our coaching session said they find design approval difficult, yet 69.9% of those who use Atarim said they find it easy to approve designs.
Not having a proper process for this part of your web design business is where scope creep can lead to making client work unprofitable – the most common culprit being endless revision rounds.
It’s often the case that, even after the task has been completed, additional requests for changes will come from the client – often because there are several people involved in the process, resulting in these requests arriving in unpredictable batches.
The result of this is inevitably massive amounts of scope creep, which will also result in delays with being paid, and being able to commit to another client, hitting your agency’s profitability targets. Back in our agency days we had some projects that literally took a year to get finished while waiting for the client to finally decide that the website did look exactly how they wanted it.
Today, we’re here to bring that to an end…
Why A Solid Design Approval Process Matters
We often encounter web designers & agencies that are confident that they can deal with the problem of delayed design approvals and unexpected client requests as they arise – even without an actual plan or process for handling them. So, before we dive in – let’s take a look at why that isn’t a good idea:
- Scope creep usually arises after the initial design is done.
- Expecting the client to understand the process isn’t going to impress them when they don’t.
- Aiming to approve the entire website in one go is unrealistic.
- Clients can potentially lose trust early on (especially if your process made gathering content, and giving feedback difficult for them) – i.e., breaking down the relationship, affecting your credibility and reputation…
Now, let’s dive in to examine how to manage design approvals the right way.
The Missing Learning Curve
So, the first round of revisions is done (we’ll cover how to define revision rounds in a moment), and you’ve sent the client an email asking them to let you have some feedback.
But there are several key reasons why the process is already at risk of breaking down – and most of these are with regard to the client, because a huge chunk of information hasn’t been communicated adequately to the client at this stage, because there will be essential things they almost certainly won’t know or appreciate.
- Your client is unlikely to be a designer, and so will have less understanding of the processes involved.
- They will clearly want their website to accurately reflect their brand’s image, and so may be hesitant in order to really feel fully comfortable with their new public presence.
- The prototype you created will have already been approved, which means the client will already be fully aware of how the final product will look, so won’t be surprised at the final reveal, and may not have any initial thoughts about changing anything.
There are also many pieces of advice you will want to share with them, including suggestions about how best to use the layout and design (such as having featured products in the ‘hero’ section’, assuming that they will be managing the content, and you don’t have an ongoing maintenance plan in place.
Ideally, to help your client with all of these areas, you would be able to show them very easily using the Atarim platform, allowing you to collaborate visually on the design, adding virtual sticky notes on the website for them to be able to view and respond to.
Explain What Design Approval Actually Means To Clients
Setting Up For Success
Implementing the right design approval approach is vital in order to make sure that the final design meets with both the client’s requirements, and your own vision of what should be a successful and effective outcome.
Part of this process must involve preparing clients by highlighting key sections of the design and helping to explain their purpose. For example, you could identify the hero section of the page, and explain how it should be used to showcase the business’s prime focus and attract potential leads.
It can be surprising to discover the difference taking the time to provide this information can really make. Your clients will feel that you have gone out of your way to provide the very best service and support, and this can genuinely help to speed up the process of them giving you feedback on that section.
Design Approval Email Template
This is a template, in other words – feel free to grab a copy for yourself, and adjust it to your business’s needs:
Hey [Client Name],
Hope you’re doing well! We’re ready to move forward to the next stage – Design Approval.
As we’re approaching the end of the project, I’d like you to go through the pages and let me know if there’s anything you feel isn’t quite as you imagined, or that you’d like us to change.
If you feel inspired with additional requests at this stage, please note them down. We might be able to include them in the next revision, or they can be added as additional tasks at a later date, if out of scope.
Please use the Atarim visual collaboration tool to add your own virtual ‘sticky notes’ to any webpage – just click where you’d like to comment, and write your thoughts directly on the page and we’ll be able to see exactly what you’re seeing!
Click here to access the newly designed home page: [Insert URL to client’s site or development environment]. I have unlocked the commenting and feedback system for 3 working days, during which period you and your team will be able to leave as many comments as you wish.
Following this feedback stage there will be an additional revision round of 3 working days.
If you have any questions about this, please do let me know.
Successful Revision Rounds – Collecting Feedback & Getting Approval
Create An Action Plan & Focus For Each Revision Round
Using a feedback template such as the one above can be a great way of encouraging the client to not only provide meaningful feedback that you can actually use, but of getting them to do that in a timely fashion.
But, it is important to be very clear as to exactly how this feedback will be used. We’ve come across some design agencies that throw emails out to clients like confetti, inviting them to provide feedback over and over again.
It’s essential that both you and the client are on the same page in terms of what is required from the feedback, and what will be done in response to that feedback. In other words, there has to be a clearly defined purpose to the feedback, rather than allowing it to just become a very open-ended exercise.
Over the years, we have often found that the more specific focus that can be given to a round of feedback and revisions, the more effective it ends up being. Conversely, we have also found that where feedback is invited with no particular purpose, not only can this feedback process take a very long time, but it can end up being vague and unfocused, and ultimately unhelpful to you as an agency.
Planning the feedback and revision element of the design approval process is critical in order to avoid the very real likelihood of scope creep beginning to eat away at your profit margin.
How To Execute A Successful Revision Round
Before initiating any revision round, there are three things that you should consider very carefully:
Timeframe – How long does the client have to gather feedback from all stakeholders involved?
Setting a specific and limited time frame for how long the client has to collect and deliver feedback is vital for keeping the project moving forward and on track. Clearly, your agency is taking their project seriously, and allocating finite and limited resources and time in which to handle it appropriately. So, it is only reasonable to expect that the client should also take the project seriously with regard to time frames and dates.
Set specific dates for when feedback should begin, when it should be completed by, and when the next revisions will begin. This process can be made easier if you’re using the Atarim platform, as you are able to unlock and lock the ability for clients and stakeholders to leave feedback on the website.
If you specify the period of time they have for this process, and then you lock the ability to comment, if the client specifically requests an extension of this phase, then you will be able to decide whether to agree to this or not. If you do agree to provide this extension, then you can justify charging an additional expense, as this will take the project out of scope. Telling the customer that you will be able to unlock the feedback tool for a period of three more days at a specific cost is an effective strategy.
Focus – What should their feedback be focusing on?
Handing a client a website and saying, “So what do you think?” is a guaranteed way of making sure the feedback you get is vague and largely unhelpful – if you get any feedback at all before it’s time for you to retire.
We strongly advocate providing a specific focus for each revision round. For the first round this may well be focusing on the larger elements, such as the overall layout and basic navigation. As the project continues, the focus for each round may become more specific, perhaps looking at particular design elements, functions, and pages.
Having a clear focus for each round of feedback is something that we recommend considering and integrating into the original project plan right from the start. Don’t make the mistake of leaving feedback to be an afterthought; planned feedback and focused feedback is effective feedback.
Goal – Once approved, what can no longer be changed?
And most importantly – what is the goal of this particular revision? Is it finalizing the layout, navigation, and content areas? Is it the last revision round focusing on making changes to any design details?
Make sure the client is aware so that they can comment on the parts of the web design process required, as opposed to wasting time giving you feedback on things that you plan to tackle later on in the next revision round.
For reference, most agencies adopt this tiered strategy with revision rounds – in which they begin with a focus on the layout and content, then on main design approval, and finally on any smaller tweaks to the design.
This is because it makes sense. Once the layout and content have been approved, you are then ready to move on to the main design (as you know what the goal is for the website).
The main design involves the homepage and few other key pages such as services, product,s and about pages. This will typically be the longest revision round but once this has been agreed you can confidently move on to the rest of the pages.
And then, just prior to launch is the third and final revision round that accounts for any other minor tweaks needed to get the website ready for launch.
Dealing With Out-of-Scope Changes – Your Plan
If your client is aware of the implications, but still wants to go beyond the previously agreed scope, this shouldn’t be a problem. This is an opportunity for your agency to shine, charge accordingly, and get the changes the client now wants done.
We have a complete guide on dealing with scope creep that covers this topic in detail. In short, similar to a regular revision round, define a clear timeframe and goal for any such extension. In terms of pricing – some agencies adopt a standard, flat-rate hourly fee for any changes that were out of the project’s original scope. We find this to work quite well, especially for Atarim customers who use our built-in time tracking feature to track how long implementing each individual change that they request takes.
This also reassures clients that they really are only paying for the unaccounted changes that they now requested, and with clear estimates for how long each task can take, they may end up deciding that making the change isn’t going to be worth it for their business after all.
Summary: Better Client Management + Atarim = Streamlined Design Approval
The design approval stage of a web design project can often be the most challenging for many agencies and freelancers, and yet it needn’t be. By planning for feedback and revision rounds well in advance, having a clear focus for each round, and being prepared to charge for feedback requests that go beyond the original scope, you’ll be able to keep projects on track and your profit margins healthy.
But it’s also clear that one of the most effective ways of turning design approvals and feedback rounds into positive, focused, and meaningful Interactions is by using Atarim.
Atarim makes it so easy for you to provide clients with a tool that makes delivering feedback intuitive, natural, and easy. But more than this, the feedback you receive will be more meaningful, easy to understand, and far less ambiguous. This means that you and your team can get straight on with implementing the feedback suggestions in a much more time-efficient manner.
And with Atarim providing additional features, such as the ability to lock and unlock the editing window and automatically time how long tasks take for more accurate billing, the entire design approval process becomes easy, natural, and meaningful.